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Turkish riot police scuffle with a group of protesters as they attempted to defy a ban and march on Taksim Square
Image: Reuters/M. Sezer

May Day rallies marked by violence, arrests

May 1, 2018

Revelers, laborers and dissidents took to the streets worldwide to mark International Workers' Day, with violence interrupting some peaceful protests. Traditional rallies also took place in Germany.


May Day celebrations took place around the world on Tuesday, from Manila to Moscow. Workers faced off against police, and many suffered injuries and arrests.

In Istanbul, police detained dozens of demonstrators during May Day events around the city, most protesters who tried to march toward the city's symbolic main square in defiance of a ban over security concerns. 

Small groups of demonstrators, chanting "Long live May 1" tried to push their way into the square throughout the day, leading to scuffles with police. At least 45 people were detained.

Riot police stopped about 2,000 garment workers in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, from marching on the National Assembly to demand more sustainable labor conditions.

In the Philippines, about 5,000 protesters assembled near the presidential palace in the capital, Manila, to demand that President Rodrigo Duterte make good on a campaign promise to end contractualization, a widespread practice of short-term employment that keeps workers in continuously precarious conditions with few protections.

A masked and hooded protester walks past a burning car
French anarchists set cars on fire and smashed the windows of a Renault dealershipImage: Reuters/C. Hartmann

Peaceful demonstrations disrupted by violence

In Paris, up to 55,000 people took part in protests organized by French labor unions against President Emmanuel Macron's proposed labor reforms. The peaceful demonstrations were disrupted by masked protesters and anarchists who smashed shop windows, torched a McDonald's and hurled stones at police. French police on Wednesday said 109 people had been arrested, correcting an earlier figure of  209 given by Interior Minister Gerard Collomb. 

Workers also rallied in more than 70 cities in Spain. The largest celebrations were held in the capital, Madrid, under the slogan "Time to Win," a collective call for sustainable working and living conditions, including fairer wages, social security and gender equality.

Multiple rallies were held in Greece's capital, Athens, and the northern city of Thessaloniki as transit ran with reduced service and striking workers called for an end to the austerity demanded by international creditors and imposed by successive governments for several years now. 

Russia's Federation of Trade Unions reported that more than 120,000 people took to the streets of the capital, Moscow, for commemorations that have been instrumentalized by the authorities as a display of support for the government. Thousands of dissidents, however, were also out in cities such as St. Petersburg to call for an end to the country's crackdown on free expression.

May Day commemorates the May 4, 1886 Haymarket affair, when a bomb went off during a labor rally in Chicago that was calling for an eight-hour workday. Ralliers were also protesting the killing of activists by police who had fired into a crowd of strikers the day before.

Rallies in Berlin, Hamburg, Koblenz, Nuremberg

In the German capital, Berlin, thousands gathered at the city's landmark Brandenburg Gate. About 1,700 police officers were deployed in the city.

Further rallies took place in Hamburg, Koblenz, Nuremberg and across the country.

In Erfurt, supporters of the far-right NPD party also held a protest despite a large police presence.

Read more: Opinion: Labor Day should prompt workers to create a new union-led counterbalance

In the southern city of Nuremberg, the head of the influential German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), Reiner Hoffmann, called for opposition to racism and nationalism.

He appealed to the crowd of about 6,500 people to fight for self-determination, peace and freedom throughout Europe, saying basic social rights should have priority over economic freedoms.

Turning to the work situation in Germany itself, he lamented the amount of unpaid overtime, putting it at more than 800 million hours, and said that some employers were still failing to pay the minimum wage.

Hoffmann said the new German government had agreed on important goals in its coalition contract, but that unions would keep a close watch on whether these were met "without delays or loopholes."

Read more: German trade unions strictly against basic income concept

Police vans at neo-Nazi march
Police were out in force at the NPD rally Image: Getty Images/A. Koerner

High work satisfaction?

Although the May Day rallies are traditionally used to call for increased workers' rights, figures released by the Federal Statistics Office on Monday showed that most employees in Germany describe themselves as being relatively satisfied with their jobs.

Eighty-nine percent of workers said they were content; 33 percent even said they were very satisfied. 

These statistics were cast in a critical light by the Hans Böckler Foundation, which carries out research on working conditions in association with the DGB.

A 2017 DGB study on work-life balance found that just 13 percent of respondents called their employment "good."

Forty-one percent of respondents said they were often so exhausted that they did not manage "to take care of private or family matters."

tj, mkg/cmk (dpa, epd)

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